Who was DB Cooper? Why was the Stonehendge built? Where did the ‘Wow’ signal originate from? And how did the Indian cricket team turn around their fortunes after enduring a disappointing summer in Australia?
Some of the biggest unsolved mysteries in the world!
The man leading the side isn’t very sure either. “It is a difficult one to answer”, was MS Dhoni’s reply after the Zimbabwe game when asked what had changed for his team in a matter of few days.
After all, how does one explain a 360 degree turn by a team that didn’t just fail to win, but didn’t even look like winning a single game (Tests or ODIs) during its two month long Australia tour. Today, they find themselves with six wins out of six in the biggest tournament of them all- The Cricket World Cup, being played on the same pitches, against similarly tough oppositions.
During the course of the tournament the Indian captain has been asked the ‘turnaround’ question a fair bit. And his replies have ranged from: “Well, we’ve been in those difficult situations before and experience counts”, to “The huge crowd support has helped”, to “The ten day break between the tri-series and the World Cup may have rejuvenated the team”. The unsurety in his voice is hard to miss. And this from a man known to take definite decisions even in the most uncertain of times.
Maybe MS Dhoni doesn’t really have an explicit explanation to offer on what caused the turnaround for India in the Cricket World Cup. Maybe there isn’t one definite answer. Or maybe, just maybe, MS Dhoni is the answer himself!
“It is all down to Dhoni”, is how Ian Chappell, former Australian captain turned erudite cricket analyst, summed up India’s turnaround. “He has looked like a different person, a transformed person from the captain who led India in the tri-series. India believe in him. When the team believes in the captain, miracles happen.”
The fact remains that MS Dhoni does have a sense of occasion: Hitting a six to win the World Cup and holding that pose long enough for the shutter bugs to capture the image for posterity; letting Sourav Ganguly captain during the last stages of his final test; being asleep during IPL 2010, only to wake up in a must win game and smash 29 runs of the last two overs to take his side to the knockouts. He’s at his best when the spotlight is on him; A star who likes the big stage; Not too different from a Broadway actor who may ham his ways through the previews, only to deliver a spellbinding performance on the opening night.
Dhoni isn’t the first sportsman who has a sense of occasion: a deeper understanding of how to prioritize events so as to produce your best on the most important stage. Michael Schumacher would often be slow and sluggish during friday practice, only to surprise the field come qualifying and Raceday. Rafael Nadal isn’t at his ruthless best during the Shanghai masters, as he is during the grand slams. Usain Bolt is at his fastest during the world championships or the Olympic games and not during the Jamaican National Athletics meet in Kingston. It is precisely this form that makes these athletes a cut above the rest; When the grandeur of the occasion forces most others to freeze, the likes of MS Dhoni take it up a notch.
It would be unfair to suggest that MS Dhoni and his team lost the Australian test and the Tri-series on purpose. But that they are playing the World Cup with extra belief and vigour can’t be ignored.
Sports scientists have often suggested that a professional athlete can perform at his best only for a few days in a year. Most professional athletes work consciously towards achieving those peaks at the right time. Maybe MS Dhoni does it too. But does he do it consciously or does it happen at a subliminal level? The Indian captain may have dropped a hint after beating South Africa early on in the World Cup,
“We kept the intensity a bit low during the Tri-Series. Still, we wanted to win. We pushed for the wins, but we are not able to get that. But at the same time we knew with the World Cup right at the corner, this tournament was much more important to us”
That the skipper’s philosophy is well ingrained in his team was evident when Ravi Shastri was quoted by a cricket website as saying, “The tri-series was a waste of time”
Maybe, the marketing dynamics of cricket in India have also played a part in this. After all, results in bilateral series will soon be forgotten by fans, media and sponsors alike. A World Cup win will remain etched in a billion minds for time immemorial.
Perhaps, our World Cup ‘performers’ understand that.